ToDo List for New Web Sites

When setting up a new web site, there is obviously a lot of initial work, like choosing your domain name and setting up your main page, and then there are the little things that we either do not know about or which we totally forgot about. This short list highlights some of those things.

Contact Information

Your new domain, should have at least two email accounts setup. One is postmaster@yourdomain. All email servers are required to have a default postmaster address, so this should be the first email account you setup. The other account will usually be some sort of default contact address, like webmaster@yourdomain. This will be the address any comments or inquiries from your site will be sent to.

In cPanel, you setup email accounts from the Mail manager control panel.

Note that you do not have to publish the default contact address anywhere on your site, in fact it is recommended that you setup a Contact Page which site visitors can enter comments into a form that automatically emails the webmaster account. The reason to use a form instead of a normal mailto link, is so that this email account does not get bombarded by spam emails.

Secure Your Site

Depending on your website, you might want to maintain a certain level of privacy on your site.

The first thing to do would be to turn off Indexing for certain directories that you do not want to be listed. The default behavior of Apache is to load an index page of some sort, but if none exist, Apache will list the content of the directory. For example if you have a directory named myfiles and it does not have an index page, then if someone goes to yourdomain/myfiles/, it will list every file under this directory.

To turn off indexing, go to cPanel: Index Manager and turn off indexing for each directory you want to change. You must do this individually for each directory.

But even if you turn off indexing, search engines like Google and Yahoo can still index your site, including these directories, so you will want to setup a proper robots.txt file at the root of your public_html folder.

A simple robots.txt file like this tells all spiders to crawl your site, but to stay out of the specified directories:

User-agent: * Disallow: /cgi-bin/ Disallow: /myfiles/

SearchEngineWorld has a tutorial on the robots.txt file, if you are interested in customizing your settings further.

SearchEngineOptimization

It only makes sense that once you secure your site, that you now want to make it searchable and popular with Google, Yahoo, and others, right? Although you could seriously spend your life time researching the ins and outs of the Google PageRank, let’s just cover the basics of getting your site listed.

Permalink it!

It is best to have a well organized site, meaning you need to make sure your site can be easily navigated. If you have good page navigation or if your weblog application does that for you, you will want to make sure that all urls for your site are searchenginefriendly, for blogs and contentmanagement programs, this means enabling some kind of permalinks structure, which turns complicated numerical urls into nice word friendly urls like /all-about-skateboarding, instead of /217621382/2812/.

Meta-Tag it!

Then there are Meta-tags which may or may not matter for higher pageranks, but are important nonetheless if you want to describe your content in any meaningful way. To learn more about meta-tags, read this excellent tutorial.

SiteMap it!

Any decent size site needs some sort of site map page to show search engine spiders where to go, and to help vistors learn more about your site. There is no rule as to what a site map page should look like, but Apple.com’s Site Map is a good example of how to organize one.

The 404 Error Page!

A customized 404 Error page is essential if you want to redirect visitors and keep them from leaving your site. See my 404 Error Page Tutorial on how to set one up in cPanel.

The Favicon

Perhaps nothing makes your site more unique then the favicon. For people who bookmark your site, the favicon is that little icon that shows up in My Favorites in IE or under your Bookmarks in Firefox. Not all web sites have one, and even the implementation for it is different depending on the browser, since the favicon is not an officially recognized standard.

I tend to use the following code for it:

<link rel="icon" href="http://domain_name/favicon.ico" type="image/x-icon" />

Doing a search on Google for Favicon Tutorial should give you plenty of tutorials for doing your own. Essentially a favicon is 16×16 pixel graphics file which you can create in most graphics programs. This tutorial shows you how to do one in Photoshop.

Dig Your Site For Exploits

These days, security is an important topic for everyone, but especially for the Internet world. We do not think about it as much, but for many of us, online has become second nature, almost like driving a car or breathing. For those of us who design or maintain web sites, addressing security should be something that we make part of our routine, and not an afterthought.

.Net Magazine featured story, Protect Your Site is a must read for webmasters.

You can run a simple scan of your site too, by downloading Foundstone’s SiteDigger 2. SiteDigger requires a Google API key, so you will need to register with Google for an account which is free. Once you do that all you need to do is insert the key into SiteDigger and input your site url. Google limits you to 1000 queries, so you will probably only be able to scan one site per day.

Of note is that you will probably only want to scan your site, if you scan someone else’s site, the excessive scanning might make a webmaster mistake you for a hacker and ban your IP address from their site.

SiteDigger will run only on Windows with .NET Framework, so if you are running MacOS, you will have to see if this works in VirtualPC or use an actual Windows machine.

CodeHighlight Plugin for Posting Code

One of the hardest things to do in WordPress posts, is to quote actual code easily. It seems WordPress is a bit too aggressive with auto-fixing your html and it always ends up being a hassle to post some simple code bits. This is perhaps why BBCode in forums is so popular, as it makes this much easier.

While looking up plugins for something else I ran across: CodeHighlight, which makes the process easier. With this plugin installed you simple wrap your code text with simple BBCode style brackets.

Example:

<a href="http://www.somelink.com">Some Link</a>

You can download the latest plugin from here.

cPanel User Guides & Help

If you have never used cPanel before, you might feel a little bit intimidated, but cPanel actually is the easiest control panel software to use, and this is why it is the most popular panel today in webhosting.

The following three sites cover cPanel in great detail:

cPanelGuide.net is a visual guide. This is a good site to view if you want to see what cPanel’s various screens look like and what options are offered. Note that not all hosts configure cPanel the same way, so not all options may be available or look exactly the same as this.

WebMasterStop.com has an unofficial guide that goes into detail about the various functions in cPanel. This guide offers more description of what each function does and is more helpful once you are comfortable with cPanel. You can also download the guide in zipped PDF format here: The Unofficial cPanel Guide.zip.

cPanel Documentation, the official documentation is also available online. For technical issues you should also register and join the cPanel Forums, which are helpful for when you have a specific problem.

Why You Still Need Support?

This is a common question that I see people asking everyday, and one which is pretty easy to answer. It is not that setting up a website or dealing with a technical problem is all that difficult, it is often that you do not have the technical resources to get from point A, which is the problem, to point B which is the solution. And even if you do have the resources available, you can still be overwhelmed by the amount of materials that you have to look through in order to get to point B. But perhaps the most frustrating part of any problem, is when you are presented with the solution, but have no idea how to get there!

This happens so often in the technical world of computers, that undeniably I have come across multiple situations, where I literally gave up and went another route entirely because even though the solution was right there, the amount of steps involved to get there would make the whole solution no longer worth the time and effort spent.

And so Support is important not so much in solving your problem, but in helping you get to that solution.